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Keywords:

  • Cyrtohinus fulvus ;
  • hemiptera;
  • little fire ant;
  • taro;
  • Tarophagus ;
  • Wasmannia auropunctata

Abstract

The impacts of Wasmannia auropunctata (the little fire ant) on the native biota and subsistence agriculture in the Solomon Islands are poorly understood. This species was originally introduced as a biological control against nut-fall bugs (Amblypelta sp.) around 30 years ago and in the intervening time has spread throughout the Solomon Islands, aided movement of produce and planting material. It is now itself a major pest of coconut, cocoa and subsistence agriculture. In this study, we show the negative effects of this invasive ant on subsistence agriculture in the Solomon Islands. We do this by (i) assessing the presence of insect pests that develop a mutual relationship with W. auropunctata on four common subsistence crops; and (ii) measuring the impact of a significant pest (Tarophagus sp.) and its natural predator the bug Cyrtohinus fulvus, in the presence and absence of W. auropunctata on taro crops. The existence of insect pests that form a mutual relationship with W. auropunctata was measured in a total of 36 gardens of the four subsistence crops. This was conducted through standardized visual searches, plus identification and collecting from randomly selected plants within the gardens. A number of additional insect pests causing major problems to subsistence crops have also developed mutual relationships with W. auropunctata. Infested taro gardens have more Tarophagus sp. compared with taro plants that are free of the little fire ant. The presence and abundance of Wasmannia therefore has the potential to inflict considerable crop loss in rural subsistence gardens in the Solomon Islands.